PODIM 2016: Learning to say NO! The secret power of hyperfocused startups

by Steli Efti

Hustling is about showing up, following up, and possibly messing up until you hear "yes". But success isn't just about hearing yes—it's also about learning to say "no". Learning to say that one word is the difference between hyperfocused and successful startups vs distracted and failing startups.

Here's my talk on how to force yourself and your team to focus on what matters, the second talk I gave at the PODIM 2016 conference.

It's all about how to say no, including why most startups suck at saying no and what to say no to.

80/20 principle of building a 7-figure SaaS business

Originally, the PODIM organizers wanted me to talk about the 80/20 principle of building a 7-figure SaaS business. I didn't for one simple reason: most of the things I can share about how to build a 7-figure business, you can't replicate.

There's a lot of things we did that were based on sheer luck, timing, and having 20+ years of business experience.

In general, when people are five, 10, or 20 steps removed from where you are with your startup, they can only offer you inspiration. The people you should seek out advice from are people who are one or two steps ahead of you.

I'm far from the beginner stage but I can share six things we did in the early days of Close.io that don't scale but helped us succeed. Read more.

Why most startups suck at saying no

This single trait is what most startups lack and why most of them fail: focus. If you don't know how to say no, you can't become focused.

Most startups suck at saying no. People, in general, suck at saying no. Most peope live their entire lives in fear of saying no, or receving a no from other people.

Why? Because they fear missing out, making a mistake, or confrontations. So they go through life, saying yes to everything, and therefore nothing.

Saying, or hearing, no is scary because it forces you to prioritze and make decisions. If you want to dramatically improve your chances of becoming successful, learn to love the no. Read more.

When to say no

First, you must learn to protect your time and your mental capacity. This means eliminating distractions. You must ask yourself, "Is this a distraction or will it move what we're doing forward?" If it's distraction, say no.

Next, you have to say no to anything that broadens the scope of your original goals. The broader you go, the less you accomplish and the slower you move things forward. There's magic in focus because it creates forward momentum.

However, there's no magic in shortcuts or hacks. It's usually just bullshit—don't waste your time on shortcuts.

Finally, say no to anything that does not serve your core customer. To keep myself focused and productive on the things that matter, I use a not-to-do list—and it's made a huge difference in my business. Read more.

How to say no

You should say no:

  • Often
  • Politely
  • Decisively
  • Without second guessing

If you can't remember the last time you said no, you're in deep trouble. In a startup, you'll always work with imperfect data and can never be sure you've made the right choice—but you still have to make a choice. That means you have to accept the fact that you'll make mistakes. 

Step outside your comfort zone and start making mistakes now. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Here's how. Read more.

Say no to ...

  • Say no to "Can I quickly interrupt you?"
  • Say no to coffee meetings, hour long meettings, and meetings—period
  • Say no to business partnerships
  • Say no to assholes with skills or money
  • Say no to consultants and advisors
  • Say no to bad fit customers who want to buy

On that last point, selling to the wrong customers will kill your startup.

As founders tend to be fanatical about closing their first customers and hustling their way to initial traction, they need to keep in mind that not all customers are created equal. 

If you close deals with customers that ultimately shouldn't be buying your product because their use cases are not a good fit, you will suffer the consequences. Read more.

The ANTI-product roadmap

A lot of companies have a product roadmap. How about an anti-product roadmap?

We use an anti-product roadmap at Close.io. It's very simple: it's a list of everything we will never build.

If customers start suggesting certain features, we simply refer to our anti-product roadmap. It keeps us focused and keeps our sales CRM from becoming bloated with useless features.

Another way to beat the feature creep monster is to launch and sell your software early.  Read more

Do you hear NO enough?

It's not just about being able to say no—you also have to be able to accept hearing it. Hearing no will push you to remain on top of your game. If someone tells you no, here's how to respond:

  • Appreciate the honesty and courage it took for them to tell you no
  • Don't take it personal
  • Don't fight—listen to their reasoning
  • Decide if you agree with their reasoning (don't be afraid to question what you hear)
  • Understand it's not the end—it's the beginning of the relationship

If you want to grow that relationship, don't give up—follow up. Read more.

What to say yes to

So what should you say yes to? Just three simple things:

  1. Core customers/users
  2. Building product and distribution
  3. Core no-bs metric

Don't fall into the trap of tracking vanity metrics. As a founder, you only have two jobs: attract the right customers and help them become successful.  Read more.

Recommended reading:

PODIM 2016: Go home and hustle hard!
Get ready to be motivated and elevate your hustle game. These are the 5 things you need to do to get what you want out of life & business.

A crash course in sales hacking & deal closing
Learn how to close your first customers, drive revenue, and negotiate partnerships for your business. This is going to be an essential talk for any one who is serious about transforming their idea into reality and is willing to hustle hard to make it happen.

Get your startup hustle on!
All of the resources you need—from creating sales scripts to managing your own psychology to the art of following up—to get your startup hustle on.